Turn your favourite ingredients into delicious tempura with this light and crispy Japanese tempura batter! Using my tips and tricks, you can achieve perfect tempura every time!
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What is tempura?
Tempura is an ancient Japanese dish most commonly made with seafood or vegetables coated in a light and crispy deep fried batter. The batter is a simple mixture of flour, egg and water.
Although tempura is known around the world as a Japanese dish, tempura came to Japan through Portuguese introduction. It started in Nagasaki and then spread to the east of Japan, where it became one of the "three flavours of Edo (Tokyo)" and a speciality of Edo (Tokyo).
History of tempura
The interesting fact is that the original form of tempura was heavily inspired by a Portuguese dish called "Peixinhos da horta" in 16th century.
It might seem random, but Portugal was one of very a few countries that Japan traded with back then and before that point, there was not really a culture of deep frying or cooking things with a batter. There is even a theory that the name "tempura" comes from the Portuguese word "tempero" which means "seasoning".
In addition to tempura, there are a few other traditional Japanese dishes that were inspired by Portuguese dishes such as castella cake and konpeito candy.
And the influence isn't only limited to food either, there are also a lot of Japanese words that originate from Portuguese language:
- Botan (botão): button
- Kappa (capa): raincoat
- Manto (manto): cloak
- Joro (jarro): watering can
- Karuta (cartas): a type of card game
I thought it's interesting to point that out!
Popular ingredients to use for tempura
Ingredients used for tempura are often called "tane" (タネ). Although there is no set rule, tempura is most commonly made with seafood or vegetables.
Here is a list of some of the most commonly used tempura ingredients in Japan:
- Kakiage (mixed vegetable tempura)
- Sweet potato
- Conger eel
- Eggplant / Aubergine
- Sand borer
- Lotus roots
(List in based on the ranking done by Livedoor News (2018).)
There is no doubt that shrimp tempura is the king of tempura, I think everyone in Japan would agree on that.
But other than shrimp, my personal favourite in this list is eggplant tempura! What's your favourite tempura ingredient? Let me know in the comments below!
What to eat with tempura
When at home, we rarely eat tempura on its own. That only happens in fancy specialist tempura restaurants.
Here are a few examples of Japanese dishes that are served or made with tempura:
- Tendon (rice bowl with tempura)
- Tempura udon (udon noodles soup with tempura)
- Tempura soba (soba noodles soup with tempura)
- Zaru udon (cold udon)
- Zaru soba (cold soba)
- Tenjyu (Tempura on rice in a box)
- Tentoji (Tempura on rice with egg)
My personal favourite is zaru udon with tempura in summer! It's the best!
Right enough background talk, now let's get down to how to make the perfect tempura batter!
How to eat tempura in Japan
Tempura is one of the wide spread dishes in the world, so the way of eating tempura and style of tempura batter can be very different from Japan to the rest of world. Some might be more like a fritter and eaten as it is, but in Japan, we don't eat tempura as it is. Here are the most common ways to eat tempura in Japan:
- Dip in a special dipping sauce
- Eat with salt (especially common in fancy tempura specialty restaurant)
- Drizzle with thick sweet tendon sauce (for tendon)
That being said, the batter is not flavoured and barely salted and the coat is very thin. Partly because we don't want the batter to be overpowering, the goal is to allow the unique flavour of each ingredient to shine through.
In this tempura batter recipe, I make it the simple and authentic way, so it's not suitable for following usage:
- Rolled sushi (because the thin coat will become soft and peel off easily in the cooked rice)
- Tenmusu (tempura style shrimp rice ball)
If we're talking about sushi with tempura, in Japan it is usually "nigiri sushi" with the tempura served on top of rice (rather than rolled). To add more flavour, it's often drizzled with a special sweet sauce so that the tempura has added flavour. If you want to use this recipe for sushi, nigiri style and sweet tempura sauce are must.
Dos and don'ts when making tempura batter
"Tempura batter is basically mixture of water, flour and egg". If you put it this way, it sounds so simple and easy, but tempura is actually very delicate and easy to fail.
Here is a list of the key dos and don'ts that I know and an explanation as to why each point is so important.
|Use "weak" (cake) flour||Use strong (bread) flour|
|Sift flour||Leave the mixed batter out|
|Use icy cold water||Use lukewarm water|
|Remove foam from the whisked egg||Leave foam / bubbles in the whisked egg|
|Leave some lumps||Overmix / Make it smooth|
|Make the batter right before frying||Make in advance|
One of the most important elements of good tempura is its light and crispy texture. To achieve such results, we need to prevent gluten forming as much as possible.
Tempura is generally made with wheat flour with a low protein and gluten content. I recommend using a weak flour like cake flour or plain flour.
You shouldn't use strong flour like bread flours, otherwise the batter will become sticky, heavy and chewy.
You should also sift the flour as this will allow air to enter the batter, making it lighter.
After sifting, store it in the fridge for 30 minutes to make it cold. (Keep reading to learn why we should chill our ingredients!)
Do use icy cold water (Don't use lukewarm water)
Another way to prevent gluten from forming is to use ice cold water.
It takes longer for gluten to form when the batter is mixed at a low temperature so it's essential to use cold (preferably ice cold) water when making your tempura batter.
In addition to this, cold batter reacts more dramatically with the hot oil making it extra puffy and light so it's pretty vital for successful tempura batter.
If it's summer (or your house is very warm) it is recommended to use more ice cubes. I also recommend keeping the batter in the fridge between batches to maintain the cold temperature.
Do remove foam from whisked egg
Before adding flour, we whisk the egg with water. However, when we do that, some bubbles and foam starts to appear on the surface.
Do not leave it in there as it can cause stickiness or burning. Remove the foam by scooping it out with a spoon.
It might sound a bit strange, but when it comes to making tempura batter, it is better to have lumps of flour than a perfectly smooth mixture.
Again, if the flour and water are mixed too much, gluten will form and the batter will become chewy, not crispy.
Not only that, but your tempura won't have the iconic bubbly look that it's supposed to have. In other words, tempura shouldn't be smooth!
I recommend using chopsticks (rather than a whisk) to mix the flour and water roughly a few times and leave some lumps.
Do Chill Ingredients / make the batter right before frying
The longer your batter is hanging around, the more time the gluten has to form. Over time the mixture will become stickier and stickier, leading to chewy and thick tempura.
This is why rather than mixing the batter and putting it in the fridge, I chill the ingredients and mix them just before frying.
Extra tips and tricks to make amazing tempura batter
We've gone through dos and donts, but I have a few more tips and tricks to share with you. I always use these techniques when I make tempura batter!
Use sparkling water / soda
This goes for any fritter type dish, but using sparkling water or even lager beer creates superior results. In my recipe, I use 200ml cold water and 100ml sparkling water.
Using sparkling water allows the carbon dioxide gas to heat the batter from inside as well. This helps to release the moisture from the batter and makes it extra crispy.
Some people completely replace the water with sparkling water, but I personally like to mix sparkling with normal water.
Mix flour with potato / corn starch
I mentioned before but one of the key points in making tempura batter is to prevent gluten from forming as much as possible. If gluten forms, the tempura won't be crispy.
Potato starch and cornstarch do not contain gluten so mixing some into the flour will ensure crispy and delicious tempura! In fact, most pre-made "tempura flours" contain potato starch or corn starch.
In my recipe, I mix 30g potato starch into 150g cake flour. (The "katakuriko" potato starch that I use can be purchased here on Amazon.)
Use mayonnaise instead of egg if necessary
Don't get me wrong, I still prefer using egg to make tempura batter. But on a few occasions, it is annoying to use eggs when:
- you want to make small batch
- there's no eggs in the fridge
- you cannot be bothered
Using mayonnaise is usually good when you want to make small batch. (Measuring ½ or ¼ of an egg is such a pain!)
The general usage ratio of mayonnaise is, 1 egg = 1 tbsp mayonnaise.
It is not gonna have any mayonnaise-like flavour but please note that it only works with mayonnaise contains egg. I currently live in Japan, so I always use Kewpie mayonnaise.
Dry and dust with flour
One of the most common problems people face when making tempura is the batter falling off.
This can be prevented by drying each ingredient thoroughly with a paper towel and then coating them with a thin layer of flour before dipping them in the tempura batter to help it stick.
This step is most important for shrimp and fish.
Best oil type and temperature for frying tempura
Tempura needs to be deep fried in an oil with a high smoke point. You can use vegetable oil, canola oil or peanut oil for example.
Interestingly, many professional tempura chefs in Japan use white sesame oil made from raw sesame seeds. It does make a perfectly light and crisp batter, but it's pretty expensive.
I recommend heating the oil to about 180°C (355°F). If the temperature is too low, the batter becomes oily and soggy whereas a high temperature will cook the outside too quickly making it raw in the middle and too golden on the outside.
Clean oil / Make tenkasu
When frying tempura, you will find pieces break off and float around in the oil. Keep your oil clean by removing them between each batch.
Leaving the crumbs in the oil will cause them to burn and make your oil bitter and discoloured, spoiling future batches.
We actually use these little pieces of tempura batter. They are called "tenkasu" (天かす) and you can use them as a topping in noodle soups or in recipes like devil's onigiri!
You can even drizzle any leftover batter straight into the oil to make a large batch of tenkasu! Just place them on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil and then keep them in a zip lock bag in the freezer.
I hope you enjoy making delicious homemade tempura with this authentic Japanese tempura batter recipe!Print